Putting T.H.E customer first in online branding

by Kirsten Hodgson

How can professionals and professional services firms build a strong brand online? I asked Andrea Benvie, owner of Flex Marketing & Design and a specialist in both marketing and graphic design, for her advice.

Here’s what she had to say:

In an increasingly digital world, online branding is greatly important – in many cases, your customer’s first encounter with you may be an online one.

Just as you would have heard that “first impressions” count when it comes to meeting someone face to face for the first time, the same holds true if that meeting is over the internet. And remember, the form it takes can range from a forwarded-on e-newsletter, through to a shared blog post or simply a visit to your website. Whatever it is, the customer or client experience all adds up to them forming an impression of your brand.

Branding basics

Just a re-cap on some branding basics before looking at the online specifics more closely…

Your brand is what is “built” from your consumer and customer impressions of your branded product/service or company – it is not what you want them to think of it.

In other words, it is the result of how you go about all the aspects that contribute to “branding” (including, name, logo, pricing, attributes/benefits of what you offer, values, philosophy, customer care etc).

It takes time to build a brand, especially one that is recognisable, trusted and other hallmarks of success. And because you can only shape it according to what you think your customers want and not necessarily nail it 100% of the time (i.e. their impression of your brand may differ to your intended one), the most important aspect of building any great brand is to understand your target customer really well.

Building your brand online

If you have an online presence, then your brand can be made up of the experience either mainly online (such as online retailers Amazon, Trade Me) or a combination of on and off-line. Either way, it is important to consider the brand journey throughout ALL of the interactions people have with you. If you want to increase your sales online, you need to grow your brand online first. Top of mind in creating a brand that is going to produce more sales should be “making it a no-brainer to do business with you”.

How? 

Online it is particularly about instilling trust and confidence with prospective customers and encouraging loyalty with existing customers. It all boils down to being able to answer these 3 questions really, really well…I call it putting T.H.E customer first

T. How am I helping customers or prospects to TRUST my product or services?

H. What am I doing to HELP my customers or prospects?

E. How am I making it EASY for my customers or prospects?

Tips to create a better brand online

Here are a few pointers for improving how you deliver each of these things to create a better brand online:

Building TRUST

  • Create a connection or relate to people by using their language – tone, style, level of formality and talk about or displaying information that is of interest to them
  • Demonstrate your commitment to service through open and honest communication, including your policies on refunds and exchanges. Managing expectations helps avoid disappointment too (you might even adopt an approach to “under-promise and over-deliver”) e.g. how long it takes to deliver, after sales service provided etc can be covered off via a Q&A section on your website if you don’t have a more relevant page for it to appear.
  • Use voice of others to provide testimonials. These can either be written or via online video (which will help drive traffic to your website). This is also where social networking sites can come into their own – use what’s relevant to your business.
  • Don’t hide. It is even more important online to build people’s trust by being “present”. This means not only having a fully optimised website to be easily found online, but “humanising” the brand to replicate many of the things people base trust on in face to face contact. Unless there is a good reason not to (such as compromising personal safety), show relevant images – good quality photos of yourself and team, your premises (if interesting), online map or physical address if possible, options for how to get hold of you (ideally landline as well as mobiles). Although not strictly business, it can be helpful (particularly in trades such as building/plumbing when you are going into people’s homes) to include some brief personal information – e.g. married with kids, horses, favourite past times etc as this “exchange” of information can build trust. Anything to demonstrate that you’re not going to take people’s money and run!
  • Quality via design. As a graphic designer as well as “marketeer” I have to add that it’s worth engaging a professional designer to create your logo as this helps convey your level of quality and reinforce your own values about “doing things properly”…if you yourself “do things by halves”, consumers will question whether they will experience the same “by halves” treatment when it comes to the product or service you provide them!

 Giving HELP

  • Information. For some brands this is the biggest thing they can help customers with and add real value to the relationship. Especially if the product or service is complicated or technical. Providing information is also a fantastic platform to establish an authority on a subject and many brands end up becoming the “go to” source for important/reliable information online…imagine how that improves their search engine rankings too! How to inform? The online choices are vast – downloadable pdfs/ebooks, website pages themselves, electronic direct mail, social networking sites, blogs, video, slideshows/images, links, search functions on websites etc.
  • Advice. This is similar to above, but suggests a 2-way dialogue between a representative of your company and the end customer. So, it could be as simple as a form that allows customers to email you or something more instant like live chat with customer service reps and online “call back” services. Even responses to posts on social networking can be a route to providing “advice”.
  • Freely available. “Help” should be something that demonstrates a brand is “giving”…few people want to enter any kind of relationship that is take, take, take. Freely available, means that it’s easy to find, and within reason, without charge. Just remember the “giving” bit when it comes to “help”…that is why this section is titled “giving help”.

 Making it EASY

  • Consistency. Online, offline it doesn’t matter – where it is the same brand, it needs to feel like it. Consumers should not have to “work hard” to figure out what you do, what you stand for etc.
  • Seamless conversion. So you’ve grabbed someone’s attention, “sold” them on your product or service, all online, now you want that converted to $ in the till. Are you making that process easy for customers? If they have engaged with you online, chances are they are going to want to make that purchase online too – providing them with different online payment options is helpful too
  • And repeat. Once they are officially a “customer” you need to make it easy for them to come back. There are plenty of tools to use for this depending on the nature of your product/services, however having a good understanding of customer behaviour modelled off history with other customers is a great starting point as it can help you predict recency, frequency and monetary value (RFM). Online supermarket shopping is a good example – they make it easy for customers by saving their favourites and last purchased shopping lists to cut down on the time factor which can be a big motivating factor behind grocery shopping online. They use transactional data to trigger when the next promotional activity (e.g. free delivery) needs to be timed to prompt a “lapsed” customer to order rather than just giving away margin for a purchase that was going to happen anyway.
What other advice would you give? 

Andrea Benvie is the owner of Flex Marketing & Design. Andrea has over 20 years experience in the marketing & graphic design fields and in recent years has brought these skills together to offer creative, one-stop shop solutions for small & medium businesses. A popular area of helping clients is in the area of branding because this combination of marketing & design knowledge allows her to truly understand where the commercial opportunities intercept with the creative ones for growing client’s businesses. www.flexmad.co.nz

 

Specialising in professional services and law firm marketing. I help firms to retain and grow existing clients and attract more of their ideal clients. My core services include social media for lead generation, voice of the client programmes and tender strategy and development. Outside of work I love to run. I’m a bit like Forest Gump in that I’m not that quick but can keep going for ages. I also enjoy coming up with new inventions. Unfortunately, most of them have already been invented! | * Professional services marketing consultant | * Legal marketing consultant | * Law firm marketing consultant